Brexit music (a letter)

Dear Brexit,

I know this is probably going to be painful to read, but I just have to tell you how I feel.

I know it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be born. You certainly didn’t ask to be given such an ugly name. And everybody hates you. Even your parents don’t want you. So I understand. I really do. And I feel sorry for you.

I’ve tried very hard to explain you to people, and to try to make it so that you can just dissolve back into the ether and leave us all to get on like we did before – a bit unsatisfactorily, true, but at least we didn’t have civil war like we do now. I’ve really tried to release you from this horrible situation.

But I can’t. No matter how many arguments I lay out, no matter how many jokes or cartoons I share, no matter how many headlines or opinions I quote, or even facts – and there have been so many of these, right back from well before you came into existence – nobody’s listening. A large number of British people still think you’re doing just fine. A small, but to me absolutely incomprehensible number of British people think that even if you’re the worst thing ever, they still want you.

And I’m tired of it, Brexit. I’m tired of hating total strangers because they’re unwilling to look the truth in the face. I’m tired of wondering whether people really believe that the British government has any idea what it’s doing, in any respect other than making its friends even more money. I’m totally gutted at the fact that the main opposition party, headed by a man who I truly believed in, also wants to take the country back to the mythical Golden Age of the 1950s, before all these nasty foreigners came along. As a student of history, I can think of any number of reasons why everything was apparently so much better back then. As a student of reality, I can think of any number of reasons why we’re actually doing pretty well today, if only we’d look at what’s around us rather than at what’s headlining in the Daily Mail or on the BBC. But what’s the point?

I still have many people close to me who are going to be negatively affected by you on a massive scale, Brexit, regardless of what you do next. But you know what? I don’t actually care any more. I’m safe from you, by virtue of being very lucky. And I know that’s all very well for me but what about everyone else, but that’s none of my choosing. I didn’t bring you into existence. I’ve fought you every day for three years.

So we’re over, Brexit. Because it’s not about you, it’s about me. You forced me to think about my identity in a whole new way. You made me wonder whether I was actually British. You forced me to choose sides. Well I’ve chosen. And I’m European through and through. And one thing I’ve noticed about Europeans is that they just don’t really care about you. They’re sorry for you, and a little embarrassed, but they carry on with their own lives and worry about stuff that’s really important.

So that’s it. I just can’t do this any more. Don’t ring me. Don’t text me, don’t Tweet. Don’t send me links to clips from Question Time or surveys on YouGov. I’m unfriending anyone who still sees you. I’ve blocked you everywhere I can, and I’m not going to change my mind. Have a nice life. Or don’t. Whatever.

 

Jane

Death of a lion: Fluff – 2005-2017

In 2005, as now, we were renovating in France. Renovating is horrible, hard work, and when you’re making it up as you go you need to stop and think often, ideally with an alcoholic beverage for company. Our place for stopping and thinking was the bar in the village 2 kilometres away.

One day, as we were setting off for the bar, Geoff said, “Let’s go a different way”. “OK”, I said, “I know a road I’ve been meaning to drive along to see if it’d be nice for a bicycle ride”.

And a few minutes later, as we drove along that new road, we passed three kittens playing on the grass verge. We carried on for about another 100 metres, expecting to see a house that they could have strayed from. There wasn’t one. They’d been dumped there, probably only a few minutes before.

I reversed the car, and the smallest kitten, a long-haired ginger ball of fur with a sweet face, came pottering straight up to Geoff and readily agreed to be picked up. Geoff brought the kitten to me in the car and went back to try to capture the others. The fluffy kitten immediately began exploring the car.

And so Fluff came into our lives.

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Fluff not long after we found him.

We did – eventually – capture the other two kittens, one tabby and one a short-haired ginger, both bigger and clearly more suspicious of people than their little brother. All three of them lived with us for a while until we found a nice new home for Tabby and Ginger (later renamed Tiger Tim and Citron). But by that time we simply couldn’t give Fluff up.

He was the smallest of the three, with tiny little teeth like plastic needles, and it took him ages to eat his food. His brothers would have finished a whole bowl each by the time he’d gummed his way through three mouthfuls, and he’d want to stop eating and go and play with them. In the end we used to have to lift him up to the newly-installed kitchen counter, still wrapped in protective plastic, and feed him separately, just to make sure he’d eaten enough.

This summer, I took a video of Fluff, now 12, eating some prawns off a plate on the kitchen floor. In one minute, he manages to ineptly eat about two-thirds of a prawn, scattering bits everywhere. He just never really got the hang of eating quickly.

He also never stopped being nosy.

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Fluff wasn’t the only nosy one in the household.

Fortunately, he had ample opportunities to indulge his curiosity. He lived in ten different homes in two countries, and spent nights in many hotel rooms in between. He crossed Europe in a 7.5 tonne truck in the worst storm for 40 years, and visited the site of the Battle of Waterloo – twice. He took the overnight ferry across the Baltic several times, and thoroughly enjoyed gawping at the sea. He stared very hard at people on bicycles and children in prams. He made it quite clear that he didn’t approve of the Netherlands, or Denmark, to the point that future crossings of Europe were always planned to avoid both countries.

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Watching the motorway, central Germany.

Although he was free range for the first 18 months of his life, once we moved away from that part of France he became mainly an indoor cat, being walked on a lead twice a day. Walking a cat is actually quite restful, although you rarely cover very large distances. I went through quite a lot of audiobooks while meandering slowly around the garden as Fluff sniffed at things and, occasionally, rolled in deer poo. By summer 2017, he’d got to the point where he could largely be walked without the lead.

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The lion prowls the savannah. Sweden, summer 2017.

Everyone’s reaction on meeting Fluff was the same: “What a lovely cat!” “What a magnificent tail!” “Est-il un Persan ?” “Oh, isn’t he beautiful?” And he was, indeed, very attractive. No matter how grubby he got outdoors he always seemed to be clean again within minutes of coming back in.

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My afternoon nap on the office sofa quickly became *our* afternoon nap.

But it was his sweet, playful nature that really stood out. He was naughty, sometimes. He was even bad tempered on very rare occasions. But mostly he was an enormously entertaining character, joining in with our conversations, demanding his walks, periodically jumping out from behind the furniture and grabbing us by the knees, tying himself into impossible positions while asleep and still insisting on playtime every day even at the age of 12. And he certainly took in a lot of information from his (too small) box next to my computer as I dictated translations while he snoozed.

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He was always ready to join in a conversation.

He used to invent new games and expect us to learn the rules, and mostly we did – though I never quite understood what I was supposed to do when he was hiding under the table by the door.

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One of our last walks together.

When he died, two weeks ago today, almost completely out of the blue, it was a truly enormous blow. Of course it’s nice to be able to have the windows open, not to have fur all over everything and for us both to be able to plan to travel at the same time. But that’s a poor exchange for losing such a loving and amusing companion.

We had one final journey together. We took him back to that village in the Limousin where he’d first lived with us, and laid him to rest in a beautiful, peaceful spot facing the sunset.

He will, naturally, be much missed.

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